One of the many remarkable things about Ruth Bader Ginsburg was her ability to disagree agreeably. She famously said, “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Notably, despite being passionately on different ends of the philosophical legal spectrum, Justices Ginsburg (liberal) and Antonin Scalia (conservative) maintained a remarkably close friendship until Scalia’s death in 2016. Ginsburg knew the importance of the human connection, even in an adversarial justice system. And so did Scalia. When asked about his friendship with Ginsburg in light of their differences, Scalia said, “Some things are more important”.
In the Summer 2020 edition of ACLU Magazine, Katelyn Burns wrote of the plight of transgender youth with an emphasis on the fight against legislation that would criminalize children’s gender-affirming health care in regard to the treatment needed for the transgender minor. She quoted Chase Strangio, Deputy Director for Transgender Justice at the ACLU, as saying that “the most powerful and effective lobbying” for transgender youth is having teens and young people speak directly with legislators. Thus, the ACLU is “figuring out ways to center the voices of the trans young people themselves” because of the power of the human connection.
Positive connections between human beings has always been a primary characteristic of and means to understanding, acceptance, and unity. Multiple credible scientific studies support the importance of relationships when it comes to the wellbeing of individuals, couples, families, communities, and the human race as a whole. This is true in the eradication of most, if not all, prejudices and divisions.
But first, if we are to make that union, we must be open to it and we must suspend our prejudgments.
Take the new nextdoor neighbors, for example. You watched them move in. They had professional movers and nice furniture, so they must be people of means. Wrong! They’ve been living month-to-month for the last three years and a new employer paid for the move.
You took food over to welcome them to the neighborhood. You saw two adult women, one Hispanic and one Black. You saw three children, one Caucasian, one Asian, and one whose ethnicity you couldn’t peg. Ergo: they’re a gay, interracial couple who’ve had more than a few relationships. Wrong! There are actually two families sharing the house. One adult is gay and the other is heterosexual. Neither of their spouses/partners has arrived yet.
You saw a crucifix, Star of David, and a pentagram hanging on the walls when you delivered the food. Surely they must be religiously “messed up”. Wrong! They have a spiritual practice involving meditation, kindness, and compassion rather than any particular religious affiliation. In fact, the work they came to town to do is focused on creating unity among various faiths within the community.
For weeks you shy away from anything but the perfunctory, “Good morning, have a nice day, good to see you”. Your other neighbors call you to see what you know about “those people”. Meanwhile, your children have been playing with the new neighbor children. They’ve come home telling you how much fun they were having and ask about having a backyard campout with them in your tent. You put them off. You’re not sure about “those people” and you’re protective of your children.
For the third time he new neighbors invite you and your family over for a cookout. This time you don’t have a plausible excuse, so you reluctantly accept. You’re nervous and defended, but you’re also polite. The children jump right in and are having a grand time.
You learn that you and your new neighbors enjoy some of the same sports, movies, and cuisines. You laught at some of the same jokes. You agree on some political issues, disagree on others, but you all have understandable reasons for your positions and are respectful towards each other. By the end of the night you realize that you and your new neighbors are much more like you than you thought.
To listen more than we talk is a step toward understanding, but not a solution. The best results will be when we engage regularly with those we see as different. Working side-by-side in a project like building a Habitat for Humanity house or serving in a food bank helps us know each other’s personhood and values. We may not walk away in full agreement over every issue, but we have a good chance of walking away with less judgement and more acceptance.
If we want peace, justice, and harmony we must start where we are, connecting to those around us. Practicing non-biased behavior is not enough. We must be anti-biased and intentionally active if we want real change. Anything short of that only maintains the status quo. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, we must be willing to look beyond perceived differences into the power of the human connection with all if we really and truly want a better world.
“Nothing ventured, something lost.” The late Rev. Barbara Oliver
Singer-songwriter, columnist, psychotherapist, spiritual advisor. Lives in Oxford, MS, the home of many best-selling authors including, most notably, Nobel Laureate William Faulkner.